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Wednesday
Mar232016

Torah Light: Insights from the Books of Moses

By Rob Robotham 

By Alan Gilman

CreateSpace, 2014 Softcover,

240 pages, $20.00

DO YOU SPEND as much time reading the Old Testament as the New? Many Christians I know say the New Testament seems more relevant to them.

Solid foundations are important not only to buildings but to theology as well. A house or skyscraper, without a strong foundation, will not be able to stand. The entire building could collapse. Alan Gilman, a Jewish believer in Jesus, emphasizes that’s how the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament – relates to the rest of the Bible. Gilman writes that the Torah permeates and informs the rest of the Bible; indeed, it is the foundation that supports the entire Bible.

Think for a moment of how weak and confusing the rest of the Bible would be without the Torah – it undergirds morality, worship, sexual ethics and the doctrines of God and salvation, to name but a few. As Gilman writes, “The Bible’s first five books are foundational to the understanding of all Scripture” – including the Old Testament historical books, wisdom literature as well as prophetic ones that follow after the Torah.

His description of the Torah as the foundation of the Bible is something I already recognized, but the way he emphasized it was enlightening and refreshing. It has helped me to navigate through many of the contemporary issues that are currently troubling the Anglican Communion. Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching – both on theological and moral issues – are solidly rooted in the Torah.

Gilman writes: “Each year since ancient times, synagogues have read through the Torah annually, a section at a time. The Hebrew word for these sections is parasha (plural: parashot). The Torah is divided into fifty-four parashot.” As a result, 54 readings and devotionals appear in this book.

The Torah is foundational to the Bible,

writes Alan Gilman. (Supplied Photo)


Gilman, who lives in Ottawa, began writing short messages on different parts of the Torah in the late 1990s. He did this on his website TorahBytes, which offers “biblical commentary from a Messianic perspective.”

Gilman has now collected 54 of his best messages and published them in Torah Light.  There are roughly an equal number of essays based on Torah passages from each of the five books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. He starts by providing some background and discussion on a passage and then moves to personal application.

As an Anglican who is also steeped in Reformed thinking (J.I. Packer has had a strong influence on me), I noticed that Gilman’s book reflects that theology. Week Twenty-Three, for example, looks at Exodus 38:21-40:38, which discusses God’s omnipotence. This passage is obviously a reminder that God is present everywhere but Gilman goes on to show that even though this is true, God does not “make himself known everywhere in the exact same way.” The cloud mentioned in this passage was a visible sign of God’s presence, so powerful that Moses could not even enter the Tabernacle while the cloud was located there. However, God’s presence was not exclusively limited to this cloud – He was still present everywhere – but this cloud was a very tangible way of experiencing God. This type of God’s presence is often called “the manifest presence of God.”

Some people believe that God did this only in biblical times and that Christian fellowship and the Scriptures now replace this. But when we think like this, are we putting limitations on God, restricting what he can do? Gilman explains that while God is present everywhere, his manifest presence is a special event. It appears that “God does want to make himself known in very tangible ways far more than most of us realize.” Just as God dramatically filled the Tabernacle with his presence, God continues to fill both individuals and groups with his presence today.

In week Twenty-Six (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), Gilman discusses God’s holiness, another topic crucial to Reformed theology. This particular passage is a troubling one in which Aaron’s sons are both killed and consumed by fire because they “offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them” (see Lev. 10:1-2, ESV). While we may not like this story, it emphasizes that God does whatever he wishes and that not paying careful attention to God’s Word has consequences. We need to pay full attention to God’s directives, never treating them lightly or carelessly.

While Torah Light covers much theological ground, it is easy to read, practical and highly devotional.   TAP 

An earlier version of this review appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Faith Today. Used with permission.   

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